I Wonder

This afternoon I have had a strange thought. What if I were to visualize all the times I have been anxious about something (like in a bar graph) and compare that with the number of occasions that something that I was anxious about really occurred.

I have not done this exercise before, but I would guess every day I have an anxiety bar graph of at least a 5 or 6 or 7 or an 8 on a scale of one to ten (ten being the worst). I would also bet that there is a one in fifty chance that something I was/am concerned about will present itself as a reality. And that reality if it presents would probably be a one or a two on that same scale from one to ten.

By choosing to create a numeric or visual graph of my anxiety, I am not trying to minimize the anxiety I experience at all, because it can be quite debilitating. What I am trying to do is give myself a visual of how severe the anxiety is as contrasted with whether that anxiety I experience is ever tied with an actual anxiety-premeditated outcome.

I guess you could say I am trying to rationalize my anxiety and put it into perspective in terms of how often the incident I am worried about actually occurs. I hope the result will be that I am able to talk down myself from a high anxiety event by recalling how many times my anxiety is NOT tied with an actual stress induced event. Ie. I would like to keep myself honest as to what percent of the time that I am worried actually results in a prior perceived stress event.

Just out of curiosity, what techniques do you use to talk yourself out of anxiety? Is that working for you? What else is important to consider in trying to mitigate your anxious feelings?

Just how delicate things are

I accidentally took my morning meds two or three hours later than usual yesterday. This sent me into an anxiety tailspin. I had no idea my reaction to my meds would be so time sensitive — that a two or three hour delay would have dire consequences. Well it did. I went into a full blown panic attack and in the process extended my anxiety to my lovely 17 year old daughter. This is so totally not fair to her. BIG lesson learned for me is that schedule DOES MATTER when taking psych meds. Also BIG lesson learned is that I need to forgive myself and ask for apologies from my daughter for extending anxiety toward her instead of the love and support she deserves.

Have you ever forgotten to take meds on time and suffered the consequences? Did you have to forgive your self in the process? And ask others to forgive you too?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Airports Then and Now (reposted)

Follows Fear of Flying post

As you may understand, for years if not decades after this event at the airport (see Fear of Flying post) , I have had an intense fear of flying.  Every time I go to the airport I feel the original anxiety of that day in February 1985.  The intercom voice announcements seem to echo off the walls and the floors in some surreal fashion.  The lack of windows to the outside leaves me feeling claustrophobic always.  In the early years, this meant I had to be escorted by family to the runway gate if I were traveling alone.  (This was before the days of post 9/11 security checks.)   Years later even if I am traveling with family, I tend to be hyper aware of safety issues at all times when I am at an airport. My thoughts become more elevated and I am prone to high anxiety.  Strangely (or logically) enough these fears largely take place at the airport itself and seldom revolve around safety issues pre-flight or mid-flight while on the plane.  I am not very fearful once I am on the airplane or in flight.  The anxiety is almost always associated with being in the airport and feeling unsafe.  Gladly, my husband is also not fond of flying, so we tend to make marathon drives for our summer and family vacations. 

As a side note on airports and airport travel, I tend to have a very hard time with changing time zones when I am flying.  When I am traveling by car or by train this is not so much the case as the time change is gradual.  Because of this time zone change difficulty, I largely avoided flying to Europe for almost thirty plus years.  Even a flight from Baltimore to San Francisco was difficult in that I would experience a three-hour time change and all the difficulties associated with that, particularly impacts on sleeping.  In the last few years, I have progressed through my fears and my sleep issues of changing time zones and have traveled to Europe twice – once was for a conference in Zurich, Switzerland in July 2012 and once was for a wedding and a conference in the United Kingdom in July 2013.  Thanks to Melatonin as prescribed by my psycho-pharmacologist, I was able to make these trips with relative ease in the area of jet lag and adjusting sleep cycles.

I am very thankful that my psycho-pharmacologist as an MD was open to prescribing a relatively non-traditional form of medicine for jet lag.  This option worked beautifully for me and has given me hope that overseas travel is no longer a huge worry or huge hurdle to overcome.  In general, I am very blessed to have care givers for my bipolar illness who bridge traditional medicines and their prescription with alternative medicines such as Melatonin. 

Dear Reader,

Dear reader I am writing to ask you a question. What happens after a person has had some reconciliation of the fact that he/she was very much abused as a small child? If this doesn’t pertain to you, please disregard this post.

I have just undergone gut-wrenching and extensive therapy since December 2020 which for me had its origins in treatment I received as a small child of about 6.

I have been clinging to the earth these last few weeks so as not to slip again into the abyss where for some extended period of time a portion of my psyche had been living.

According to my own assessment, I have successfully crawled and clawed my way out of a 100 foot deep pit with slippery mud sides.

Now that I am completely out of the pit ( I hope), I am wondering what to do with myself, what to work on, what to avoid, what to learn, what to enjoy. Take a shower and wash off the mud? Take into account exactly where the pit is so as not to fall into it again? Designate this exit from the abyss as my new “rock bottom” and be thankful for hitting it so as to get the $%^&* out of there? Allow myself to tell myself, I deserve happiness? I deserve good health and fitness?

As fodder for knowing I have exited the abyss, for the first time in 20 years I have been able to stick to an exercise routine composed of mostly yoga and some walking in the neighborhood. I have recorded a log which is two weeks long and growing which for me is super progress. In my youth I was very, very fit, so getting back to that place with mindfulness is huge for me.

So if anyone here or there has also climbed out of their own pit of abuse or anxiety or depression, I would love to hear your story as to what you decided to do next once you found yourself alongside the edge of that pit but no longer in it.

Of course I will talk my therapist about it, but I thought I would ask you dear reader in the meantime.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Imprinting (reposted and a continuation from prior post)

What I took away from this first break experience during my Senior winter at Ivy College is that being mentally ill meant I was first a criminal and second a person. I know that first responders were doing their jobs to watch out for the safety of all those who were boarding the plane and/or in the airport. But that experience told me: “You are a criminal. You were trying to bomb the plane. You are guilty of anything and everything until proven innocent. You need to be handcuffed. You do not have the right to have fears much less to express them. You do not have the right to have perceptions that are not 100 percent clear. You are a danger to others around you and you need to be locked up.”

My first episode imprinted me for the rest of my life. For years, I would try to escape the label of criminal that had been imposed on me by circumstance and happenstance. But try as I might, I still felt like I was a criminal every time I had a subsequent break-through episode no matter how big or how small.

In hindsight, things could have unfolded quite differently. I could have reported to the school clinic that I was having anxiety about traveling to Chicago and had been having some trouble sleeping. I could have gone into the clinic for a routine evaluation and perhaps been put on lithium or some other drug for bipolar. But sadly, that is not the way my first episode and subsequent diagnosis of bipolar went. I remember to this day looking at those pictures on the wall in the police station and thinking they must be looking for me as “most wanted.” Being mentally ill simply meant I was a criminal.

I will talk later on about stigma and first responders — including the importance of training first responders how to recognize the signs if a person is a danger to him or herself or whether the person is also a danger to those around him or her. But that discussion about stigma and first responder training is for another day.

I have a bad case of covid fatigue

I have a bad case of covid-19 fatigue and here’s what I am doing about it.

Anxiety is my go-to emotion. Anxiety in the midst of a pandemic is particularly tough. What I find I am doing with my anxiety is projecting out several weeks, several months and even several years into the future to see what life’s obstacles I need to attend to. This is completely the opposite of what I know I should be doing. I should be living in the moment one day at a time and not getting too far into the future or the past.

In order to help myself along with this goal and this need of getting back into the present, I am contemplating all the things I am worrying about, putting them on a list and then putting a time frame on them as to when they are due. Things that do not fall within the next 2 to 4 weeks or so go on the back burner to be addressed another day.

It is OK but not functional to have a list of all things to attend to until Doomsday. It is much nicer to have a shorter, more obtainable list of things I need to do in the next two weeks.

How do you keep focused on the present in this time of covid?

Sometimes when I don’t have the energy…

Sometimes I don’t have the energy to tackle the things on my to-do list. Either the to-do list is too long, or I am feeling anxious about things or some combination of the two.

What I have found when I am feeling this way is if I can just do one small thing on the list like pickup eggs at the supermarket, the rest of the list does not feel so daunting. As soon as I can jumpstart myself into doing one thing that’s productive, the barriers to finishing other items on the to-do list are less so. Often I can go ahead and complete several other items.

Does anybody else have a way of jumpstarting their to-do list? What is your secret?

Understanding triggers for yourself and your spouse

It goes without saying that everyone should be aware of their own triggers so as to have proper boundaries with the people in their life. This might include their spouse, a clinician, or perhaps a person in the grocery store. Once we know our own triggers, we can better avoid situations with these triggers as well as adopt behaviors that help manage through the triggers if they are unavoidable.

But what I am proposing here today is not only to know your own triggers but also be aware of those triggers for your spouse (or your best friend). Invariably about three times a year, my husband’s trigger gets tripped. This is often surrounding planning for / taking a car trip for a week to ten days. Or it may have to do with some investment issue or mechanical mishap gone awry – usually something simple. My husband tends to sweat the small stuff but let the big problems roll off his back.

Understanding what triggers my husband is as important to me as understanding what triggers me. When he is under stress he tends to use a tone of voice that is not pleasant to me. For a while in the earlier stages of our relationship I would try to counter that tone of voice in a way that escalated the conflict. I would just mimic back the escalated tone which never resolved anything and only made things worse.

What I have been doing for the last several years of our marriage or so is just going silent if he is in a triggered space. Not reacting. Not engaging. Another thing I do is to let him know I cannot process the information he is communicating to me when he is using that tone. Both of those tactics seem to work better than the escalation scenario.

Another thing I have been doing lately is verbally acknowledging him when I know he is in a stressful place. From time to time, I do talk him down from getting to that trigger in the first place. If we are unable to manage through a trigger zone successfully, I ask for an apology and he gives one.

On the other side of the coin, when I am triggered in my anxiety spot which is almost once a day for a half hour, my husband uses humor to deescalate me. If I am worried about losing the keys, he might say that he threw them out the window or some such joke. If I am worried about the car windows being open, he says he rolled them all down before it started to rain.

I am not sure this is ideal behavior for a couple but it seems to work for us. I understand his trigger areas and largely seek to avoid or deescalate during those times. He understands mine and does his part through humor to let me know my anxiety should not dominate my day or dominate my thoughts.

For the most part, we also go out of the way to thank each other for things we do around the house or to help with the running of the household. We try not to take each other for granted and express gratitude for the times when we are able to manage without impacting each other’s triggers. Part of being thankful is acknowledging that neither of us is perfect and that is OK.

Thoughts from an evolving helicopter mom…

I no doubt struggle with being a helicopter mom — someone who is always hovering about her child and getting overly involved in schoolwork and other developments in my 16-year-old’s life.

In these days of covid-19 I am trying my best to be more hands-off. The last thing my daughter needs during the pandemic is for me to be breathing down her neck about school work. She is 16 so she is largely capable of doing her schoolwork on her own.

She is also an A or A plus student during non-covid times, so it seems more than likely she should be fine in this age of remote learning.

I feel that my anxiety is what prompts me most into being a helicopter mom. Moving forward, I need to talk myself out of anxious feelings before involving my daughter in my own anxiety experience. She has enough on her plate connecting to school and peers remotely and does not need me to micro-manage her. It only adds to her stress.

I believe at the root of the problem is the fact that I was not safe when I was young due to abuse from a neighbor. My hyper-vigilance is a by-product of not feeling safe when I was young and projecting that onto my daughter’s situation. While it is good to be vigilant, there is a definite downside to too much worry and too much involvement nonetheless.

So the goal for now is to not involve my daughter in the consequences of my anxiety: too many questions, worries about deadlines, concerns about testing. She is almost 17 years old and can manage those things on her own.

Going forward, I just need to check-in with her once a day and see if there is anything I can help with. That’s my plan for now. Anybody else have the experience of being a helicopter mom? If so, how do you manage it?

I just had a three-hour talk with my best friend…

My best friend and I talked on the porch with masks and social distancing for the last almost three hours. She is the type of friend who you cannot see for 6 months and then pick up and connect just where you left off last.

It was wonderful to know more about how she’s been doing and helpful to feel that I might be of help just listening to some of the things that have been occupying her life — like caring for her teenage son who has had some mental concerns and being a teacher in this time of distance learning and covid-19. The teachers right now in the States are having a time of it.

Talking also helped me put my own problems into better perspective. The challenges of my life seem to largely revolve around my anxiety even when the actual problems themselves are not that dire. Talking to my friend helped me gain some insight into my own peculiar need to always have something to worry about when that is not necessarily helpful or needed.

My friend is also an avid exercise person. I gave her permission to get on my case for not exercising on a regular basis. I asked her to reach out to her son and to her ex-husband and let them know that she respects the work they are putting in daily to overcome anxiety and other related challenges.

Once again, I am reminded how thankful I am for the relationships in my life. It makes me want to invest more time in developing more meaningful relationships across the board. Even when the conversation moves to serious topics, it is good to know we are not alone and that we can do our best to put on each others’ shoes and walk a mile or two.